It’s difficult to get a handle on how safe Tesla’s vehicles are, especially those equipped with their autopilot features. Just a few months ago, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analysis that appeared to show that older Tesla models became safer when updated with automatic steering options was called into question. "Our replication of NHTSA’s analysis of the underlying data shows that the agency’s conclusion is not well-founded," according to Randy Whitfield, president of Quality Control Systems, who conducted a review of the NHTSA data.
But it doesn’t seem that it was the self-driving function that was at fault in one accident in a California woman’s garage that left her pinned against a wall and sent her into premature labor. The woman is now suing Tesla, claiming its Model X lacked proper sensors and safety features.
Tesla insists the vehicle "responded to the operator’s inputs, as designed." But that operator, in this case, turned out to be Mallory Harcourt’s 2-year-old son. Harcourt had allegedly just returned from shopping when she parked her Tesla Model X in her garage and opened the doors to unload groceries and take her son inside to change his diaper. Her son ran back into the car and the driver’s seat, however, and by the time Harcourt passed in front of the vehicle to get him, it accelerated, pinning her against the garage wall.
Harcourt claims the Model X’s gull wing doors were still open when it suddenly sped forward. She was eight months pregnant at the time, suffered a broken leg and shattered pelvis, and alleges the accident sent her into premature labor. Her lawsuit claims Tesla’s poor Model X design is at fault, specifically:
The vehicle lacks proper driver’s occupancy seat sensors, to distinguish between an adult and a child;
The vehicle fails to ensure all doors are closed before acceleration; and
The vehicle should have a shifting mechanism to prevent accidental engaging of the car’s drive system and an unintended acceleration or reversal.
Data and Defects
Tesla’s own data from the crash allegedly show someone alternately pressing the accelerator and brake, sometimes at the same time, while the gear shift was put in drive. (All while Harcourt’s son was lodged between the driver’s seat and the pedals.) The company is denying fault for the accident.
Holding car manufacturers legally responsible for defective vehicles is not easy. Product liability claims can be complicated and involve reams of data and statistical analysis (the same kind that the NHTSA struggles with, apparently). If you think a malfunctioning vehicle was at fault for your injuries, talk to a local product liability attorney today.